- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Twenty-two days have passed since the Washington Wizards lost a game. And on top of their franchise-record tying nine consecutive wins which they hope to extend to 10 tonight in Charlotte their nine road wins ties them for most by any NBA team this season.
If the NBA playoffs started today the Washington Wizards would be seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference and would make their first postseason appearance since 1997.
It sounds good, even great. And it has coach Doug Collins willing to proclaim the Wizards a possible playoff team.
"We've got a chance. We've got a chance if we can stay healthy," Collins said last week. "There's a lot of ifs. There are going to be a lot more peaks and valleys in this season. As much as I'd like to say we're riding high, boy I know how quickly that can change. Will we be able to ride through rough waters? That will be critical. We've done it once, but there are going to be rough waters. If we can continue to do that, then darn right I think we can make the playoffs because we can win on the road."
So far they can. Only the Hornets (12-15) have won as many road games as the Wizards (14-12) this season.
However, the Wizards are about to be tested in the area health that Collins pointed to as the most crucial component of their bid to reach the playoffs for the second time since 1987.
The Wizards will play at least the next three weeks without starting power forward Christian Laettner (broken leg) and perhaps the next four without shooting guard Richard Hamilton (partially torn right groin).
This has Popeye Jones advising caution.
"Not yet. Way too early for that," said Jones, who is starting for Laettner. "It wasn't long ago that we were talking about ending an eight-game losing streak that had us all down. Right now we're playing well. We're winning games on the road, and guys are upbeat. But now's not the time to start talking about the playoffs."
But even with the injuries there are reasons why the Wizards should feel optimistic as 2001 turns into 2002. To begin with, they go into tonight's game against Charlotte just 31/2 games behind first-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.
And unlike the Western Conference, where everybody stands in line behind the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento and San Antonio, the East is as mediocre as ever. Plus, even though the Wizards are faced with some troubling injuries, the schedule is about to become a little more kind.
After games in Charlotte and Indiana, the Wizards will have played 12 of their last 16 games on the road. However, the Wizards will get the chance to build some momentum with 10 of the next 15 games at MCI Center.
A win against Charlotte, just 3-7 at home this season, would be a good place to start.
Earlier in the season the Wizards lost five consecutive home games. Still, they have won their last three at MCI, and Collins, who doesn't like to look too far ahead, said the Wizards look forward to gaining some wins at home.
"We blew an opportunity to galvanize MCI Center when we lost those games," Collins said. "That was when we were really struggling. But the guys stayed together through that. They didn't get down on each other. Now we've got a chance to keep turning around the season. But Charlotte is most important to us right now."

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